Monday, January 30, 2012

A Whole Bunch of Answers!

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I've really enjoyed doing these "How?" posts! I hope you've all gotten something out of it too! Feel free to send me questions anytime and I'll do my best to answer. I  have one more next week, but this time I've compiled several of your questions with slightly shorter answers:

Grechen said...
My question deals with your genre, how do you balance adult interaction with teens without having the adults become underdeveloped absentee people?

A: Great question, Gretchen! Here’s a blogpost where I talk a bit about that.

Dean K Miller said...
How do I get my alien co-author to keep the story in and earthly time zone, and also quit drooling his snarfly-slime all over the pages?

A: That’s the trouble with aliens, Dean. If you’re going to partner with someone, you should make sure you’re compatible.

Jill Kemerer said...
How do I meet my word goals without drowning in coffee? :)

A: I can certainly relate to this one! The best thing you can do is bring a floatation device to the computer. Oh and maybe switch to half caf!

How do I present myself as normal when there are so many voices in my head?

A: That’s the great thing about being a writer! We’re all crazy, so we GET it. ;D

Medeia Sharif said...
How do you prevent yourself from going back and editing parts of a draft when your still drafting? It's such a time suck, but I itch to do it. I'm getting better at not doing it, but I can't help but go back.

A: You don’t! It took me a while to figure that out. But here’s the thing. If there’s a “rule” that you know, but you function better outside the parameters of that rule, I say break it. I edit sometimes as I go. If I don’t fix something it bothers me, so much so that sometimes I really can’t move forward without fixing it. Sometimes I follow that same rule, but when it gets in the way of my writing? I don’t. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pacing for Pantsers

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Before we begin: I'm guest posting on Elizabeth Craig's blog today on making paranormal believable, so please stop by and say hello!

Julie Musil asked "You're a pantser, so how do you know when you've got the pacing right, and where you need to insert plot points?


Great question, Julie! First let me qualify that my process, like everyone, is probably slightly unique. When I started I simply started with a file filled with random notes/thoughts/names/etc. and jumped right in. Lately I've been using more of a format like the Beat Sheet from SAVE THE CAT. Either way, the outcome is the same. When I have the idea, I quickly realize that certain big "events" have to take place in order to tell the story. I also typically have a good idea how it's going to turn out. There are still plenty of opportunities for surprises on the way, trust me! 

These major turning points, whether named correctly or not, represent the major turning points in the story. If I have the right characters, and the right inciting incident, it works out. 

It's funny how the subconscious works as well. I recall one time where things seemed to be going too fast. But I couldn't exactly stop everything, or force non-essential material in. What happened? My character did the opposite of what I expected, which delayed the inevitable for just the right amount of time and built far more tension and depth than I'd anticipated. Voila! That's what's so great about really letting the characters fully develop. 

Hope that answered the question! I guess the point is that it falls into place one way or another. And when it doesn't? You can make it work. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Avoiding a Passive Beginning

S.P. Sipal asked: "How do I create a character whose story arc is to discover and own her inner power without making her come across as too passive in the beginning?"

Great question! The moment I read this one my mind went immediately to SHATTER ME by Tahereh Mafi. In SHATTER ME, Juliette begins in prison, completely broken, having been taught her whole life that she is an abomination. That could break anyone. But we follow Juliette on her journey as she learns to embrace her power and accept herself as a good person. 

Never once while reading this did I think to myself what a passive weakling Juliette was. Why? Here are a few things I noticed that Tahereh did to avoid that feeling:

  1. Make the situation interesting. The circumstances are so unique and intriguing that the reader would want to know more no matter what the character was like. 
  2. Make a multi-dimensional character. I know I harp on this a bit, but seriously! Your MC may be passive in some ways - but not in EVERY way. Juliette is broken when we meet her, but not entirely. We can still see glimpses of her core. And even if she doesn't realize it, we see that her concern for another human being trumps her self-pitying circumstances. 
  3. Use the voice. Oh oh oh. The voice in this manuscript is so unique and poetic that it's hard not to keep going. It's Juliette's voice and it sings. You may like it, you may not, but you cannot deny the presence of it, nor the impact on the manuscript. 
These are all tips we can use to enhance our own manuscript. It's the combination that makes the manuscript. The world, the characters, and the plot all weave together in a dance to carry us through. It's a tricky balance, but when we get it right... WOW. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

When To Take The Next Step

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I have a small announcement before we begin. There are so many amazing posts out in the blogosphere that it's tough to get to them all. I know I can't be the only one to feel that way, so I'm going to take a break from my Thursday posts and I ask that the time you would have spent visiting me, you give to a new blog you haven't yet visited. In the meantime I will be posting on Mondays and you can always find me on Twitter!


Heather asked: "How do you know when a book is 'done' enough to start sending it out on submission?"

And C. Lee McKenzie asked: "How do you know when a story just isn't going to work, give up and move on to a new project?


At first glance these questions seem quite different, but the answers are remarkably similar. The thing is the manuscript is never ready. There is always more you can do, and you can drive yourself nuts doing it! We really need to ask ourselves if we've done our best and then what our time is best spent on. Here's checklist:

  • Have you given the manuscript time to rest between revisions? It's essential for fresh perspective. 
  • Have you had critique partners and beta readers go through it? Have you revised sufficiently based on their notes?
  • Have you done a pass for grammar, word choice, superfluous words (e.g., I could hear the bang), and general polish?
  • Have you written a solid query letter and researched agents/editors?
  • Are you at the point where you keep changing the same sentence back and forth? That's a good sign it's time to let go. 
At this point you send it out. Test the waters. I recommend sending around five queries to start. Make sure each is personalized. Why do you want that agent? Hopefully not because you picked her out of a hat! See what your response is. If you don't get anything consider taking another look at your opening pages or query letter and try again. Rinse and repeat. He he. Then comes either the offer you've hoped for, or the realization that you aren't getting anywhere. How do you know it's time for the drawer?

My honest advice is to work on a new manuscript right away. To start something WHILE you are querying. It keeps your mind off things and helps keep your confidence up. With each thing we write, we get stronger. But if not, here's another checklist:
  • Have you tried a hundred agents? That's a good number. No really. It's true. I'd say if you haven't hit sixty, you haven't done enough. But that's my opinion mind you. 
  • Have you made your query and manuscript as strong as you can?
  • Are you going cross-eyed trying to figure out what else you can do?
  • Have you written only one book?
Now this last one is very important. I believe it gets easier with each manuscript to distance yourself enough to be objective. Plus it looks good when you have more than one project. Keep writing. Perseverance is the key. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Isn't My Character THE BEST Syndrome

Melinda asked "
A character may be likeable to the author - and that's mostly because they're the one who created them - but how do you know you have a character that the reader will like just as much as you, the author?"

Good question! What immediately comes to mind is the Seinfeld episode with the ugly baby. Remember that? Anyhow, it's perfectly natural to favor your own characters, after all you've spent so much time and energy getting to know everything about them and watching them blossom out of the blank page. But how do you know they're really going to be that awesome to everyone else? 

Here's a checklist we can use to help judge whether your characters are developed and interesting/likable enough:

  1. Beta Reader reaction. This comes up again and again for a reason. Test the characters with your betas. If they don't seem swept away, try to figure out why and go from there.
  2. Does your character have both positive and negative qualities? Is your hero that you've fallen head over heels for perfect? Then make him flawed! Real people aren't perfect, and neither should your character be. I'm not just talking character arc here folks - I'm talking other attributes as well. 
  3. Can you answer the question, what makes my character different from all the others? Can you answer it with specifics? Quirky habits are great, but they only go so far. It should reflect the distinct personality of your character. What makes Katniss so endearing? She isn't exactly easy to love. Is it her fierce love and determination to protect her sister, even at the cost of living with a mangy cat? Maybe that's part of it. 
  4. Has the character surprised you with a reaction/action? I love it when my characters do this. Only writers really get it, but when the character has a life of his own, he will resist doing something if it isn't what he'd choose. Listen to that. If everything he does is predictable to you, it may be predictable to the reader.
I'm sure there are a million other tests. What are some ways you use to tell whether the character will appeal to others? Anything surprising up here? Discuss!!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Internal Dialogue

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Happy New Year!!! *Blows horn* It's time for the post you've so patiently waited for. Stina asked: "How do you find that balance between...inner thought and action when revealing emotion? So many writers use action and visceral responses, but agents and editors are saying they want more inner thoughts." and Dana followed up with: "How do you slow down an action paced novel with internal thought and do so seamlessly?"

Finding the balance between inner thought and action, both in revealing emotion and without hurting the pace, can seem pretty tricky. Some of you may wonder why you have to do it at all. So first let's look at some reasons we NEED that inner voice:

  • Without the internal dialogue you are not truly in the characters head, and you want your reader as close to them as possible, so that they are connected enough to share their feelings. 
  • We use internal thought constantly. It's part of life and it's realistic. I know I have a constant monologue going in my head. Maybe not everyone is quite as bad as I am, but everyone thinks unless you're a zombie. And maybe even if you are!
  • We can use internal dialogue to control the pacing of the novel and punctuate certain scenes. 
  • We can use it to impart information, not only about the character but the plot as well.
Great! Now we know why. So the next step is HOW? I will explain and then give examples. 
  1. When your character has a (to use Stina's term) visceral response to something, they must have a pretty strong feeling/thought associated with it. Let's say I'm terrified of spiders and there's a big hairy one hanging over my nose when I wake up (it's happened). Visceral response? My blood turns to ice, my muscles clench and all at once I burst from the bed with a scream. Overboard? You have no idea... :D Anyhow, the moment I'm out of bed, I will most likely not only start doing the "get off of me" dance and shuddering, I will be thinking things like, 'Why me?' And 'I hate spiders! Why can't they leave me alone? Why does it have to be like that time in third grade?' Etc. Now if we were writing this, I'd say to pick and choose the most powerful and unique responses both internally and externally, but I wanted to give you the big picture.
  2. If the moment is important to your story/character arc you should slow it down and focus on it. The ten minute car ride to school should not take as many pages as the confrontation with the monster spider. One way to do this (and make it meaningful at the same time) is to highlight it with thoughts. The wonderful thing about thoughts is that they don't take very long in reality, so we can have that moment of internal dialogue as the pincer is about to pierce the flesh of our MC. And doesn't that add to the tension?
  3. Ah here's the biggest one. Physical responses can mean different things to different people. So if you don't make it clear what the character is thinking, the reader may have an entirely different interpretation than intended. We can even turn this around and use it so that our MC misinterprets the response of another character. We do it all the time in real life, don't we? Oh so many delightful misunderstandings...
  4. BUT you say. Isn't this telling and not showing?? Isn't that a cardinal rule that we hear over and over again??? Not necessarily. You can show a lot through internal dialogue. What a character thinks at a certain point says a lot about them. Where's the first place your head goes? Maybe we now know how selfish she is or how much a certain person means to her. 
Example time! 

Without internal dialogue:
The hilt of the broadsword slipped in my palm and I tightened my grip, adding my other hand for support. My eyes darted around the darkened room, searching the dancing shadows for the hint of something more. I edged further into the room. Moments later hot breath bathed my neck and I whipped around to find a hundred eyes centered on me. The sword clattered to the ground.

A fine paragraph.

The hilt of the broadsword slipped in my palm and I tightened my grip, adding my other hand for support. I could do this. I had to do this. My eyes darted around the darkened room, searching the dancing shadows for the hint of something more, aware that each moment might be my last. Every fiber in my body begged me to leave. To turn around and run. But I couldn't let Grayson die because of me. I edged further into the room. Hot breath bathed my neck and I whipped around to find a hundred eyes centered on me. The sword clattered to the ground useless.

Which one was better? What did the second have that the first didn't?